Outrage as NSW captain sacked on Origin eve
THERE is no doubt how much State of Origin means to these women players.
On an historic night at North Sydney Oval, where NSW and Queensland's best female players gave their all, it was telling that victorious Blues captain Maddie Studdon had been forced to leave her job to be there.
A shift worker at Port Botany, Studdon was forced to choose between work and representing her state.
There was only once choice for the proud Blue, who defiantly led her team to a gritty 16-10 win.
It was the first time the women played under the State of Origin title. Nearly 7000 fans paid to get in to watch and the match was broadcast live on Channel 9 and Fox Sports.
The teams didn't disappoint.
Everything was there. Big hits, niggle and uncompromising rugby league - exactly why Studdon knew where she needed to be this week.
"It was quite easy, I was always going to pick rugby league," Studdon said.
"I was going to pick that Blues jersey. This is my job and if that's how it's going to be."
Like many female rugby league players, Studdon is semi-professional and forced to juggle work, training and playing.
She was given an ultimatum by her bosses at the Port Botany wharves, where she worked as a truck driver - give up footy or her job.
She was told she was taking too much time off work and they couldn't keep her on if she was to continually be away as part of her responsibilities as NSW skipper and Australian Jillaroos representative.
"It's so hard that Maddie lost her job over this week," NSW coach Ben Cross said.
"That's how hard it is. To be a NSW rugby league Origin captain, she couldn't get the time off work.
"That's the sacrifice that these women and players are making to wear the Origin jerseys, they're losing jobs over it."
The Blues were looking for their third straight victory after 17 years without the trophy, and they battled through the first half with an injury-depleted line-up.
It was a courageous effort but they were carried through the dying stages by the rallying cries of "New South Wales" from the crowd.
Three players went down within 20 minutes of each other in the first period.
Corban McGregor dislocated her shoulder in the sixth minute and didn't return. Lock Vanessa Foliaki and hooker Rebecca Riley followed.
This for a team already down on troops, with captain Ruan Sims and halfback Caitlin Moran unavailable for selection because of injury.
It was six-all at the break.
With five minutes to go it was 10 apiece.
It was Blues centre Isabelle Kelly - player of the match and two-try hero - who broke the deadlock, stepping her way through to score after a break from five-eighth Lavina O'Mealey earlier in the set, to take the match in the dying stages.
Coach Ben Cross said his side's execution was off, Queensland had monstered them in tackles through the middle and they had struggled to get the flow to their quick outside backs. But he praised the determination of his players in producing a match that was everything Origin should be.
"If they were looking for a marquee Origin for the first ever women's, they got it," he said.
"Queensland came with a terrific attitude, and the game - it wasn't the prettiest game, the execution wasn't the best, but that was what Origin is all about.
"Both teams were so gritty and tenacious in defence. The physicality, some of the hits out there, it was just a true Origin and they proved their worth to have that name of Origin alongside that game."
While Studdon might eventually have to turn to Seek to find a new job, for now she said she would happily watch replays of the game. She may not have to though.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the game would look out for its women's players as they negotiated the difficulties of shifting to being semi-professional athletes.
"What we have to do is work smart and work together, so are there collaborative opportunities with one of the clubs? Are there development opportunities with us in our game development?" Greenberg said.
"How do we make sure that we take care of these girls who are on the way through?
"We understand that it's a journey, but also people have to get up on Monday and if they don't have work then we've got to try to help them."